Rochester holds a rare spot among America cities: our architecture, spanning over two centuries, is of unusually high quality and rich in variety. Many of our houses and commercial buildings are original structures. These buildings and landscapes are our unique treasures, Rochester’s distinctive thumbprint on the world.
Rochester is Well-Preserved
Rochester has eight preservation districts encompassing more than 1,000 properties, including East Avenue, one of the country’s premier preservation districts. More than 65 properties are listed in the national and state registers of historic places, including Little Theatre (1929), Geva Theatre’s Naval Armory (1868), and the Powers Building (1869). Rochester has two national historic landmarks, the highest category of designation: the Susan B. Anthony House and George Eastman House.
Rochester’s Residential Architectural Styles
In Rochester you’ll find styles that run the full spectrum of American history.
Federal (1780s-1820s) The lightness, symmetry, proportion, and simple plan that characterized this style evolved from the English Adam brothers whose work was extremely influential here and in England during the last half the 18th century. The Federal Style featured details such as low-pitched roofs, narrow cornices, delicate moldings, and fan-shaped gable windows. Special attention was given to the entrance way which often included a fan window, flanking side windows and small porches.
Greek Revival (1820s – 1850s) Characteristics of the Greek Revival style include columns and pilasters, pedimented gables, wide entablatures divided into two parts, frieze windows, and cornice returns on gabled ends. Principal doorways were often flanked by sidelights with interesting uses of heavy moldings or pilasters. The popularity of the Greek Revival style coincided with the opening of the Erie Canal.
Gothic Revival (1840s – 1870s)
Pointed-arch windows, steeply pitched roofs with deep overhangs, vertical board-and-batten siding, and decorative gable trim are hallmarks of the Gothic Revival style. Porches are supported by thin columns that are often grouped in pairs or clusters. Later in the century, various Gothic elements were mixed with new designs and styles. While Gothic Revival houses are rare in Rochester, there are a few to see.
Italianate (1840s – 1880s) The Italianate style was derived from the villas of the Italian countryside. Two full stories, low-pitched hip roofs with cupolas, and expansive overhangs supported by decorative brackets are typical features of the style. These houses often had small porches and double entrance doors. Interior spaces were large with tall ceilings and massive decorative features.
Second Empire/Mansardic (1860s – 1880s) Deriving its name from the French Second Empire, this style is set apart by the use of the mansard roof. The mansard roof was a way to diminish the apparent height or mass of a building and add a third story. Structures in the Second Empire style share many features with the Italianate style. In fact, adding a mansard roof was a popular method of remodeling Italianate homes.
Eastlake (1870s – 1880s) Eastlake was a popular decorative ornamentation that was often applied to houses of other styles, such as Queen Anne. Eastlake detailing consisting of assorted knobs, spindles, and circular motifs (usually called “gingerbread”), is often seen on gable trim. Porches and verandas feature rows of spindles, posts, and brackets.
Queen Anne (1870s – 1890s) The Queen Anne style is characterized by a rambling floor plan, asymmetrical design, an eclectic mixture of materials, and an informal atmosphere. Distinctive traits include the combined use of brick or stone with shingles and clapboard, decorative exterior woodwork, steep gables, large and elaborate chimneys, round towers and turrets, bays, porches, and stained glass windows.
Colonial Revival (1880s – present) Colonial Revival style houses are based on designs of houses that were popular from early colonization until the American Revolution. Typical details are dormers, centered entrances, dentil molding, fan lights, little or no cornice overhang, and various elements borrowed from the classical Greek and Roman architectural eras.
Bungalow (1905 – 1920s) The Bungalow or Craftsman house became popular just after the turn-of-the-century. Typical details were exposed rafters and support beams, tapered columns, paired or grouped windows, porches, and a low pitched roof.
American Foursquare (1900 – 1920s) Built to offer the most house for the least amount of money, there may have never been a more popular or practical house than the American Foursquare. Typical features of the Foursquare are boxy, two-story body, hipped roofs, dormers, front porches, and deep overhangs. Most decorative features were saved for the front porch which could reflect either Colonial Revival details or Bungalow elements.
Tudor (1890s – 1930s) The Tudor style house was derived from early English sources. Steeply-pitched roofs, decorative half-timbering and casement windows are commonly found on most variations. Tudor houses in Rochester are usually brick or stucco with some finer examples built of stone. Interiors are frequently dark with stained trim, wainscotings, and doors. The hardware and lighting fixtures are often wrought or simulated wrought iron.
Moderne (1920s – 1940s)
International (1920s – 1980s) The Art Moderne and International Style have their roots in the European movement that shunned the long continuum of architectural tradition that they viewed as fussy, impractical and excessively ornate.
Art Moderne styling is characterized by smooth plaster or concrete wall, flat roofs with scant cornice, curved or rounded corners, and horizontal bands of decoration. Look for glass blocks, metal-framed windows with no trim, and pipe railings.
The International style was more rectilinear with flat roofs, metal casement windows sometimes placed on corners, cantilevered roofs or porches, and walls of windows. Walls were generally stucco or concrete with no decorative features.
21st Century! Today, there’s a lot of exciting new loft-style residential development going on in the city, skillful and dazzling projects within older industrial and commercial buildings. Notable examples include Buckingham Commons, the Parzon and Parry Buildings in High Falls, Station 55, The Medical Arts Building, Chapel Hill, Village Gate Square, The Flatiron Building, and the Temple Building. Impressive new infill residential and mixed use developments are happening as well– including Corn Hill Landing, Sagamore on East, Mills at High Falls, Union Lafayette Townhouses, and South Hickory.
For more information on historic architecture, architectural styles and historic preservation…
The Landmark Society of Western New York
National Trust for Historic Preservation
The Preservation League of New York State